Kid Koala: Turntable Technician

The Slew: “It’s All Over” (100%, Puget Sound, 11/24/09)

The Slew: It’s All Over

The Slew: 100%
The Slew: 100%

Kid Koala is Eric San, a Québec-based scratch DJ who has lent his hand to a bevy of adventurous projects over the past decade. His ambitious and creative turntable manipulations have led to musical collaborations with the likes of Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Mike Patton.

San’s latest project, The Slew (a collaboration with Dylan Frombach, a.k.a. Dynomite D), was originally conceived as a score to a documentary as a favor to a friend. The film collapsed in production, but the duo was so pleased with its progress on the score that it went on to complete a record anyway. The result is an album stuffed with grooving beats and a more rock-oriented feel than on previous Kid Koala works.

Emphasizing creativity, San always strives to make his interests fit new concepts and contexts. “I think a lot of scratch DJs suffer from short attention spans,” he says. “I think that’s what drew me to the instrument in the first place. I would get bored if I always had to do the same kind of show or see the same kind of show. I don’t want to spend so much time on something unless it is something I would want to see. This never really feels like a career because there’s this independent motivation to keep myself interested.”

This urge has rendered San a multifaceted artist. In addition to his musical endeavors, he is also an accomplished visual artist. In 2003, he released Nufonia Must Fall, a 300-page monochrome comic book detailing a romance between a lonesome girl and a robot. He also released accompanying music and melded the two mediums in his live shows.

“Making custom records is almost like mixing your own paint. I don’t think it’s necessary to the craft; I just think if you’re a nerd like me, you end up there somehow.”

“With touring, it is always about finding a live way to present something that would bring the record into context and bring people into our dimension a bit,” San says. “It was a turntable show, but I wanted it to be presented like it was a reading — something mellow where people could actually get into the story.”

Although San now strives for the ultimate in audience engagement, he was raised playing classical piano, a rigid and solitary endeavor. He eventually dove into the antithetical world of scratching, using turntables as a meta-instrument to patch together musical landscapes out of dug-up, old vinyl and sound-effects records. As his craft matured, he found himself urging for more control over the sounds at his disposal, eventually turning to cutting records himself.

The Slew was recorded with turntables in Kid Koala’s characteristic freewheeling yet meticulous style via analog chopping and changing of records layered over each other.

“It widens your palette a bit,” San says. “What we’ve been doing on The Slew is, for example, holding down a chord on a Hammond, like an E chord, and while that is happening, messing with the space-echo dial…and then cutting that tone onto a record for, maybe, eight minutes. So it could be the most boring, useless record, unless you’re a scratch DJ or some guy who works at a meditation camp. Making custom records is almost like mixing your own paint. I don’t think it’s necessary to the craft; I just think if you’re a nerd like me, you end up there somehow.”

Despite the allure and convenience of switching to digital sampling, San has been a staunch traditionalist when it comes to using analog turntables in alive setting.

“Maybe it comes from playing piano or something, but playing music is always a visceral, hands-on experience to me,” he says. “I’m not really so down with point, click, drag, and see what it sounds like. I just feel like the performance aspect is what makes it fun. From a show, I always like to see people play stuff. But whether these cats are on Ableton or complete modular synths, or whether they’re playing a wine glass, I don’t really care as long as what comes out the speakers has their spirit in it. You can hear that; you can always hear that. I think people read off you easily if you’re going through the motions or actually challenging yourself and trying new things.”

Likewise, the live representation of The Slew entered new territory for San, for whom Chris Ross and Miles Heskitt (both ex-Wolfmother) provide a live rhythm section, hashing out the heavy-rock beats. “We thought about doing it ‘normally,’” San says. “But it would require seven DJs and 14 turntables.”

As always, San is thinking of new ideas before he has even finished realizing his current ones. His next graphic novel, titled Space Cadet, is nearing completion. The plans for the corresponding tour bring even more concept to the show-going experience. Listeners will sit in beanbag chairs and listen to the music via headphones while watching the story unfold visually.

“My approach to doing music for that project is really subtle, like more ambient tones,” San says. “A lot of the story is about isolation. We want to bring that isolation into the context, which I think would translate well through headphones.”

Although he has Space Cadet and a new Lovage record in his sights, San might need some time off after The Slew. “I think that after this thing, my ears will be ringing for months,” he says. “Slew is by far the loudest project I’ve ever been involved with.“

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